Holes in the Story: Huey P. Long, Carl Weiss, and the American Spectacle of Conspiracy

Image credit: Lamar White, Jr. | Bayou Brief

Part Three of Three

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The only thing I am grateful for in this terrible thing is this: Thank God Senator Long was not killed. I thank God for that. My boy is dead, but I would never want to have that on his soul.”
—Viola Maine Weiss, mother of Carl Austin Weiss. Sept. 9, 1935

On the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 9, 1935, in the boom town of Baton Rouge, nearly 2,000 people braved the blinding rain and padded across the soaking, somnolent grounds of Roselawn Memorial Park. Established in 1921, the cemetery’s landscaping conjured up an idyllic version of the Deep South during a bygone era, tranquil and lush, neatly preserved underneath a canopy of majestic oaks dripping with Spanish moss. The crowd had gathered in a section exclusively for Catholics in order to witness the burial commitment service for a 29-year-old physician named Carl Austin Weiss.

Three miles west, the crown jewel of downtown— Louisiana’s opulent new skyscraper capitol building— was meant to communicate a different message, of a state and a people soaring into the modern world.

Although he had been unknown to most of those in attendance that afternoon, the people of Baton Rouge and New Orleans were already acquainted with the other Carl Weisses in his family. His father, Dr. Carl Adam Weiss, was a prominent Baton Rouge doctor and in 1933 served as president of the Louisiana Medical Society. His grandfather, Prof. Carl Theodore Weiss, who immigrated from Germany in 1870 at the age of 26, became an acclaimed New Orleans music teacher, best known for serving as the music director of the Liedertafel, one of several local singing societies and the first in town to admit non-German-speaking members. Prof. Weiss played an important role in the planning and production of the North American Sängerbund Festival in 1890, which the New York Times praised as “the greatest success the city [New Orleans] has ever witnessed” and was arguably the first large-scale music festival ever held in the future birthplace of jazz.

The youngest Carl Weiss, Carl Austin, had only recently started planting his own roots, attempting, as best as he could, to distinguish himself independently from his family. When he joined his father Carl Adam’s medical practice, he asked to be listed in their building’s directory as “C. Austin Weiss.” And even still, after his death, the local paper continually misreported his name. He was introduced to the public as Carl Weiss, Jr., the name he had given to his three-month old son.

“Floral offerings were banked high in a room of the Rabenhorst funeral home,” the Associated Press reported the following day. “Automobiles lined the streets for blocks and traffic policemen were on duty directing the stream of cars…. From the funeral home, the procession moved to St. Joseph’s church, the spacious interior of which was filled before the body arrived. Dr. Weiss’ wife, dressed in white with a small black hat, followed the casket into the church. She was supported by her husband’s younger brother [Dr. Tom Ed Weiss] and mother. Other members of the family followed and sat directly in front of the altar during the brief ceremony.”

There were two people conspicuously absent: Weiss’ newborn son, who had been left in the care of a babysitter, and his father-in-law, Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy, who reportedly had fallen into a deep and all-consuming depression—blaming himself— after hearing the news of Carl being savagely killed by Huey P. Long’s bodyguards.

Whatever happened there between him and the Senator and those who killed him, I do not think I shall ever know. That is something we’ll never know. And what happened there, what brought him there, will always be between him and his Maker.”
—Dr. Carl Adam Weiss, father of Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, Sr.

It all seemed so inconceivable: That such a bright and promising young doctor, a devout and earnest Catholic, a loving husband, and a doting new father who never once complained about changing diapers and seemed to be joyously planning for the future would have ever decided to so recklessly, so impulsively throw his life away.

Of course the real reason so many people showed up at St. Joseph’s and then at Roselawn had little to do with any of the Carl Weisses. They weren’t there to observe a religious ceremony. Rather, they were participating in a political act, a way of granting legitimacy and signaling support for what Weiss was alleged to have done during his final seconds of life.

Across town, inside of a fortified hospital room at Our Lady of the Lake Sanitarium, Sen. Huey P. Long mustered every last ounce of his prodigious reserves of energy battling to stay alive.

Hours before the burial service, Monsignor Leon Gassler convened a meeting with some of his subordinates in the sacristy of St. Joseph’s (which became St. Joseph’s Cathedral upon the establishment of the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1961). They had to decide whether Weiss, a parishioner at the church, should be given a proper Catholic funeral mass and burial. Ordinarily, Monsignor Gassler would have consulted with the Archbishop in New Orleans, but Joseph Francis Rummel was new to the job and couldn’t be expected to understand the complicated politics of Huey P. Long’s Louisiana.

“Strictly, in case of doubt, the Archbishop should have been consulted,” Father Sam Hill Ray told the writer David Zinman. “However, it was not clearly proven that Carl Weiss shot Huey. We had no proof that he was the assassin, as stated in the press. Therefore, Monsignor Gassler gave him the benefit of the doubt, especially for the sake of the family.”

In an interview conducted the following month with the Catholic publication The Register, Archbishop Rummel made it clear that he agreed with the decision. Weiss, after all, had attended Sunday morning mass that very day. “It happened so suddenly, there was no certainty,” Rummel said, adding that if it was true that Weiss shot Long then it must’ve been the result of temporary insanity.

28 years later, when Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby killed New Orleans native Lee Harvey Oswald, the funeral home tasked with overseeing Oswald’s burial told gravediggers they were preparing a plot for an old cowboy named “Bobo.” There were so few people in attendance that members of the press were asked to serve as Oswald’s pallbearers.

In contrast, the funeral and burial services for Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, Sr. are believed to be the largest ever held for an alleged American assassin.

Next page: A Story Set in Stone

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